PTZ cameras playing key role in IP-based television production
By Paul W. Richards, Director of Marketing, PTZOptics
Robotic cameras have been making their way into television production studios more frequently in recent years. Historically, TV productions have required traditional broadcast cameras because of their high visual quality, along with a one-to-one camera-operator relationship. PTZ cameras have now become extremely appealing alternatives that rival standard broadcast cameras, allowing connectivity and remote-control options that provide studios with both cost savings and flexibility. As television studios increasingly adopt IP-based production infrastructure, the ability to easily deploy IP-connected PTZ cameras will often make them a preferred choice.
IP connectivity has become a trend sweeping television production, and its adoption in PTZ cameras is no different. PTZ cameras that are network connected can provide IP camera controls for pan, tilt, and zoom along with the ability for operators to remotely configure those operations. IP camera configuration allows producers to toggle aperture and shutter speed on the fly remotely from one central location. Similarly, a single camera operator located anywhere can quickly control an array of multiple IP-connected cameras in order to tweak exposure, white balance, color, and much more.
Along with remote color correction and configuration, advanced PTZ control options are also available. PTZ cameras generally support both manual speed controls and automatic presets in which the speed at which the camera moves can be saved for future automated use.
Another ideal aspect of using PTZ cameras for television is their ability to be deployed in almost any position, as they do not need additional space to accommodate a camera operator. Placing PTZ cameras inside of teleprompters has become a new trend to save space and gain additional functionality. Other ideal mounting locations for PTZ cameras include tripods, walls, and ceilings.
Whatever mounting location is chosen, a PTZ camera should have a clear view of the intended capture area. For distance shots, many PTZ cameras feature optical zoom that allows them to capture high-quality, close-up views of areas from far away. Generally, optical zoom comes with a trade-off between the maximum zoom magnification and the field of view the camera offers, so it is important to select the right camera for your application. For example, the PTZOptics 30X-NDI camera (with a 30x optical zoom lens) can capture a head-and-shoulders view of a subject up to 22 meters away. The 12X-NDI PTZOptics camera in the same line offers 12x optical zoom but provides an additional 12 degrees of field-of-view coverage – ideal where cameras need to be placed closer to areas of interest.
IP Infrastructure for PTZ Cameras
A solid network infrastructure is important to successfully deploying IP-connected cameras that are designed to distribute video over IP. While many television studios already enjoy IP-based camera control and remote configuration, they may still use SDI or HDMI cable connections for signal transport along with traditional, hardware-based video switchers. For those moving to an all-IP video workflow, careful consideration of networking infrastructure is important.
For example, NDI® — the IP video production protocol developed by NewTek – recommends that users have a minimum of a Gigabit network infrastructure. As the popularity of NDI has increased, NewTek has introduced two unique NDI modes that can be used to distribute video over IP. NDI|HX is the latest version of NDI that provides “High Efficiency” IP video connectivity over a LAN (Local Area Network). NDI|HX complements “full” NDI, which features increased quality and higher bit-rates, but requires additional bandwidth. (See Figure 1)
NDI|HX PTZ cameras generally allow users to select an NDI quality mode where users can choose from low, medium, and high-quality settings. Figure 2 outlines the bandwidth usage of an example Gigabit Ethernet IP network at a television studio.
Deploying PTZ cameras on IP infrastructure is further simplified by Power Over Ethernet (PoE). Network switches with PoE support can now easily power PTZ cameras over a single ethernet connection, eliminating the need for a dedicated power supply at each camera.
PTZ over IP in Practice
Broadcast Beat is a production studio outside of Miami, Florida, that recently upgraded their studios to support IP-based video production with NDI using a NewTek TriCaster TC1 video switcher. From inside the central Broadcast Beat production control room, a single operator can run the entire system when needed. The TriCaster TC1 combines the ability to switch video with integrated PTZ camera controls, allowing the Broadcast Beat production team to multitask with ease.
The Broadcast Beat studios include three unique, pole-mounted teleprompters that feature PTZOptics 20X-NDI cameras inside. These Autoscript teleprompters provide on-camera talent with their upcoming lines, while also acting as the main cameras for productions. The three camera setups surround the studio set, and each is able to produce four to six preset pan, tilt, and zoom camera views. This gives producers 12 to 18 camera inputs to switch between in the TriCaster, all with just three physical cameras. Producers can also take remote control of the cameras’ operations to perform manual zooming and panning shots as desired, and they prefer the responsive iOS app when performing manual control rather than a traditional PTZ joystick controller.
“Operating the PTZOptics cameras with the TriCaster TC1 could not be easier,” said Broadcast Beat founder Ryan Salazar. “Deploying PTZ cameras in our studio has helped us increase the production value by allowing us to use PTZ presets on the cameras. We can set up the various shots in our TC1 and simply click to recall a saved camera preset before we transition to the live video feed.”
Broadcast Beat’s experience exemplifies how pan, tilt and zoom cameras can play an increasingly important role in IP-based broadcast production infrastructures. Using PTZ cameras in an IP-based setting can improve production workflows by eliminating the need for multiple camera operators and costly production space. This not only saves money, but can also increase safety during a time when many productions have shifted their in-person staff to being remote. Maintaining this level of flexibility will be an important consideration for television production well into the future.